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Thoughts from a studio filled with paper and light

Contemporary artist Chetnaa on why her studio is like a temple, and why working with paper means an obsession with keeping her workspace always clean 

The artist in her studio
The artist in her studio

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Delhi-based contemporary artist Chetnaa's ongoing solo show P=4L is all about deconstructing square space. Featuring three series of monochromatic minimal works exploring the "tendencies and potentialities of the square" as the curatorial note puts it, it is being presented by Anupa Mehta Arts in Mumbai. In an email interview, she talks about the space where this—and all her recent work, really—came together.  

Could you describe your current workspace to us?

I have a cosy 1bhk, which I have taken on rent near my house that serves as my humble studio space.  No frills, just a very basic setup is what I have.

It has a lovely terrace with lots and lots of fresh light, for I am someone who must have a lot of daylight pouring in from every corner. Not at first, but now I have also given in to lots of plants; slowly and steadily, I am filling up the space with anything green and everything that blooms!

Like every artists' studio, I always feel that my studio can use a lot of cleaning, but I always seem to steer my way through everything I have collected over the past couple of years.

The main room in my studio is dedicated to the space where I work from and the bedroom plus the kitchen I have converted into storage for my works and works in progress.

Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

Yes. Over ten years, my studio and studio practice have evolved a lot. From a very basic setup within the confines of a bedroom, my studio has grown to cover a fairly decent sized one-bhk house now.

Having a studio within a living space with family always had its restrictions, even though I never let them affect me or my practice. Having a private space where it's just yourself and your thoughts have really helped me go beyond.

Since I work mostly with paper, it was really important for me to have proper storage for it; this was something I could manage with my own private space. With time and how the practice has evolved, I have also come to understand the various nuances of running a studio space.

The studio
The studio

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

My studio is like a temple for me. I have to come every day to it, irrespective of what work I am doing or even when I am not doing anything.  If not daily, I always try to clean it by myself every alternate day. A clean space is very important for a clean mind and creativity. I normally come here in the mornings with my lunch and leave for home later in the evening. A cup of coffee on my terrace in the evenings with some lovely birds, sometimes a kingfisher or a wandering peacock, is a must routine for me every day. 

Every day in the morning, when I enter my studio, I first check on my plants and see how they are doing and then from there, I sit on my desk and decide upon how to progress with the day.

 Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.

That's a very difficult question! Because for an artist, each work produced is a eureka moment! 

Each visual artist follows a different method of approach to work. For me, it has always been visualising the work mentally first. The final work is there as a vision to me first, and then I move to my layout/sketchbook where I make notes of what the work is, how big I would like it to be, the mediums and if it will be in a series etc.

If I were to pick one such series, then it would be "The Grid series", which started in 2019 and was finally displayed at the IAF in 2020. It comprised a total of 33 works and more than the finished work. The entire process of making the work and how each and every corner of my studio space was converted into separate zones for the various stages required to produce those works was electrifying (plus my studio was all grey – as the work was in graphite)!

If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?

Currently, if you ask me, I consider myself to be very lucky to have this space as my studio, filled with bright daylight and lots of positive vibes and some wonderful memories of the sparkling evenings spent here with some dear friends. Therefore, I don't feel the need to trade the space just yet, but maybe in the future, a slightly bigger space is what I would hope for!

The grid series
The grid series

What's the one thing that has always been at your workspace over the years. Why?

Lots and lots of cleaning solutions (e.g. Colin) and lots of tissues, for I am obsessed with cleaning my work desk every day so that the white of my paper remains pure and clean!

The first artist whose work you followed closely/sometimes imitated. What about them appealed to you

After I completed my bachelors, I had a year off before I could apply for my masters. I started reading and researching a lot about Bauhaus, Wassily Kandinsky and non-representational art and slowly found myself being drawn to abstract art. I started exploring the latter and produced a large number of works in that one year and continued my experiments with abstraction during my masters as well. My professor, Abhimanyu V.G., really helped me to develop my visual language.

He introduced me to artists like Nasreen Mohamedi and Agnes Martin, whose works had a huge impact on me. It was the simplicity of form and medium they used to create such impactful works with minimal marks on paper/canvas was that left me bemused. To arrive at such simple manifestations was and is something I always strive for through the course of my works.

And currently, I am reading a lot about Concrete and Neo Concrete Art, and I am really inspired by the works of Lygia Pape and Lygia Clark.

What was the first medium/tool you used in the early years of practice? How has that evolved now?

Paper has been my biggest medium and tool over the decade long practice of mine. And through the early years onwards, I realised the importance of using acid-free and ph neutral paper for my works. The obsession has just grown, and I tend to stock my favourite paper in bulk along with multiple other types of paper – never knowing when I might need or use them!

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.


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